The word “amen” has ancient Semitic roots and is used in many languages and religions in the greater Middle East. The spread of Christianity and Islam, which both started in that region, expanded the use of the term worldwide.
“Amen” is spoken as a response to a prayer or blessing as a sign of affirmation, agreement and hope for fulfillment. The Hebrew words for “true,” “trustworthy” and “faithful” share ancient-Semitic roots with “amen.” Those praying respond “amen,” adding their affirmation and, in effect, saying, “Let this be true,” “We believe this is a trustworthy/truthful assertion or request” or “So be it.”
“Amen” is used this way throughout the Bible. “Amen and Amen” marks the end of several collections of Psalms within the Book of Psalms (Psalm 41:14, 72:19, 89:52). Paul often ends his epistles with “amen.” In Revelation, Jesus is called "the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God's creation" (Revelation 3:14). And throughout history, Christians have responded to statements in sermons or testimonies, or upon receiving the elements of communion, with “amen.”
The word “amen” may also precede a statement as a means of emphasizing and calling attention to a declaration of truth. Jesus’ words “Verily, verily” or “truly, I say to you” in the Gospels — written in Greek as AMHN, AMHN (pronounced Ah-meen, Ah-meen) — indicate to the listeners that what follows is true and the one making the statement has authority to make that claim.
Does the word “amen” refer to males?
No. Although it has a similar sound, the term is not related in any way to the English word “men” for adult males. Going back to Hebrew, the word for an adult male is “ish,” having neither letters nor sounds in common with “amen.”
The pronunciation with a short E in English has created the possibility for some confusion for English-speakers. The word “amen” in English can sound like a reference to adult males. In addition, for many generations, in public prayer among Christians, the only voices speaking were male. This may have contributed to an association, even if unintentionally, between the terms “amen” and “men.”
Although changed over time in written form and varying a bit in pronunciation, “amen” has remained for centuries across many cultures and religions an expression of truth, trustworthiness and hope for fulfillment of what has been said or prayed.
This content was produced by Ask The UMC, a ministry of United Methodist Communications.